DADE CITY — County commissioners have long offered incentives to convince companies to move to Pasco or expand here, but on Tuesday they took the unusual step of approving an incentive package to try to stop a company from leaving.
The plan, approved 3-0, will allow county staff to offer $332,000 to the tech company VLOC to try to persuade it to stay in Pasco after the company announced last month that it might relocate as part of a consolidation. (Commissioner Kathryn Starkey arrived after the vote. Chairman Jack Mariano was absent.)
VLOC, which makes high-performance optical parts for the defense, security and aerospace industries, employs more than 100 workers in Trinity and Port Richey, although the incentive package involves 83 workers.
The package amounts to $4,000 per employee paid out over four years. If the company accepts the deal, it must commit to remain in Pasco for at least four years, according to a letter to VLOC's parent corporation from the commission. If the firm leaves before then, it must return the money.
"I think it's important to keep this company (in Pasco)," Commissioner Pat Mulieri said.
However, because of the offer's unusual nature, Commissioner Ted Schrader was skeptical about what the deal might mean in the future. He asked whether companies might request incentives even when not planning to relocate.
"This sets a precedent," he said.
Staff replied that companies seeking the incentives would be carefully vetted. Also, staff would consider the value of the jobs affected as well as the overall economic loss caused by the move.
In this case, VLOC's workers earn on average more than $50,000 a year.
A Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council study found that if VLOC left the county, the impact would ripple across the local economy, causing a combined loss of $5.7 million in annual spending.
VLOC moved to Pasco in 1996. It approached the county's Economic Development Council about incentives last month. Its parent, Saxonburg, Pa.,-based II-VI Inc., was planning to consolidate VLOC with another subsidiary, LightWorks Optical Systems, which has locations in Tustin and Murrieta, Calif.
"We absolutely are serious about the county helping us," VLOC's corporate controller, Marcia Burris, said. "We reached out to them."
In other business, commissioners approved spending $400,000 in fiscal 2016 and 2017 for the creation of a training center with the aim of boosting high-tech manufacturing jobs.
The center, which has support from the Pasco school district, would introduce training methods developed by German manufacturers.
High school students would be given a chance to participate in a German-style apprenticeship program to learn how to operate advanced manufacturing equipment.
The state, local businesses and Hillsborough and Pinellas counties also would be asked to contribute to the startup costs.
If the state or the other partners decide to not participate, Pasco would be free to back out of the agreement.
It's not yet clear where the training center would operate and when it might start.
Mulieri said she supported the idea, but had trouble backing Tuesday's motion with so few people in attendance.
"There's nobody here," she said.
Starkey said she was seeking approval nonetheless to show legislators that Pasco is committed to the project. Commissioners were expected to travel to Tallahassee on Tuesday as part of an annual meeting with lawmakers. The measure passed 3-1, with Mulieri voting against it.
Rich Shopes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6236.